A Festival Programming Manifesto

by Michael Lerman
October 22, 2008 4:53 AM
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So, in the past 24 hours, the website Before You Submit was brought to my attention.

There's a lot to look at here and I don't want to bother summarizing it all, but I will say that while I appreciate the special kind of arrogance and perhaps anger that it takes to create such a site built on what are often misconceptions about film festival programming, I do appreciate the idea that someone is making a concerted effort to give a full analysis to filmmakers on every aspect of their movie. It's something I wish I had more time to do while I was programming myself.

Anyway, I'd love to start a discussion about it on here, so if I've peaked your interest at all, take five minutes, read a bit of what they are trying to do and leave a comment here letting me know what you think. It'll be much more insightful than getting spammed on my blog comments all day.

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  • bear | October 24, 2008 6:35 AMReply

    they have a real passion for film and it shows.

  • iw | October 24, 2008 5:41 AMReply

    No one is doubting their passion for film. We all share that, I'm sure. That being said, I do think that Mike has a point and it may very well have been overlooked thusfar.

    I fully understand the need for criticism, particularly the type of unencumbered back and forth that some filmmakers may find unachieveable through friends/colleagues. However, providing that criticism is not the job nor even the responsibility of festival programmers. The sheer volume of submissions they receive is prohibitively large, rendering even the foggiest notion that this falls under their purvue entirely moot. To say, "Before You Submit provides this service for your festival to guarantee paramount quality in film programming" and "[BYS will] watch the film in its entirety (unlike most festivals and even film schools)" is, as Mike states, arrogant and ill-informed (many of the largest fests guarantee that at least one person will watch your film from start to finish), and more than a little insulting to genuine programmers.

    But, programmers feelings aside, I think that their is a greater issue at hand. This is a consultancy service, much like freelance editors in publishing, and it should remain as such. To try to have "film festivals worldwide...access our film submissions and RATINGS database, in order to work with filmmakers...[and] guarantee paramount quality in film programming" devalues the integrity of the process, not to mention the identity and autonomy of each individual festival. Centralizing the opinion process is a bad idea. It makes that process homogenous. The job of BYS should be to guarantee paramount quality in film-making through preliminary film criticism. After that, let's hope the film can walk on it's own. That being said, I kind of want their job.

    Now, we could argue this hypothetical to death, but it wouldn't get us anywhere. Obviously, BYS has just opened shop so, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. They're trying to contribute a service that could prove extremely valuable. In its essence, they're trying to improve cinema. But, Mike's skepticism and misgivings are well-placed. And, if I were also a programmer, it'd rub me the wrong way too.

  • Kevin Ely | October 23, 2008 7:14 AMReply

    I also met these guys on the festival circuit, and wished I had known them before we started putting our movie out there. Very helpful and encouraging.

  • David Redmon | October 22, 2008 6:33 AMReply

    It's a well thought out, filmmaker developed, and devoted (secular) site. I've met these folks at various festivals and their eagerness and enthusiasm is contagious.